Monday, January 20, 2014

Update: Dr. Marsden made it to her interview

In an earlier post, I told the story of an American educated colleague of mine who was twice denied entry into the USA, who was worried she wouldn't be able to attend a job interview. Here is an update to her story:

Preface: I had already done a Skype interview with the professor I'm interviewing to work with. The next stage in the academic interview cycle is to go and give a seminar to the department on my work, and interact with the people I would be working with, mentoring, and to see the facilities I would have access to.  The interview is a two-way street, and people often interview at several places in order to receive multiple job offers, which can be leveraged into the best job and terms possible.  As it happens, I have been interviewing in multiple countries, and may wind up with multiple job offers, although not all are equal of course.  I am being pursued by U.S. institutions to work for them, in part because I was trained for 8 years in what I do, paid for by science foundations funded by the US government.
On the day before the interview, I showed up at the airport, letter of invitation and plane tickets bought by the university in hand.  In customs, they spent 3 hours questioning me and going through everything I had, in excruciating detail.  Looking through my texts, photos, every single piece of paper, etc.  It was embarrassing, although at least everything corroborated what I was saying.  

However, the officer kept saying things such as "you're under oath", "anything you say can be used against you", and "being permitted to enter the US is a privilege, not a right". While I have no problem with these statements in general, it served to make me feel as though I was a criminal, despite having never done anything wrong.  Disturbingly, he even said, "I know your type, you grew up in _____ with lawyers for parents and don't take this seriously".  

Despite denying that this had anything to do with unsubstantiated suspicions of a secret boyfriend, I was questioned vigorously about my relationship with one particular ex boyfriend.  In my 8 years in the States, I naturally dated people. In my case I'd dated about a handful of people relatively seriously.  The ex the border agent was particularly interested in was the one I had been attempting to visit over the holidays (and his family, with whom I am friends).  The officer thought it was strange that we are still friends and spend time together.  He thought he had trapped me in a lie when I said we broke up in 2012 but then found pictures of us hanging out in 2013.  Luckily for me, since I was telling the truth there was also evidence that we have both been dating other people.

In the end, I was cleared to stay for the few days around my interview (ie. I wasn't allowed to stay the length of a usual visitor visa) having to return on my return ticket, which I had planned to do anyways.  At this point though, I'd missed my first flight. After several phone calls, the university arranging my interview had to re-book, at the expense of several hundreds of dollars.   

 I was told that the next time I attempt to visit the US it will be the same.  I am not allowed to visit the US unless I have a job in Canada.  I was told that unless you're a student, being employed is a legal requirement for entry.  Even if I am invited for an interview, they may not let me through.    
It feels strange to know that the whole country next to mine, the ONLY country next to mine, is off limits.  I am not allowed to take time off and travel or take care of ailing loved ones, and am also not able to visit friends and family in the US, or be a tourist.  Even if I have enough savings to support myself, it is not allowed.  My statements were treated as lies without any attempt at verification.  I was treated as though being born in another country was my own bad decision, that I deserve to be punished for.  Yet I have done absolutely nothing wrong.

I'm glad Dr. Marsden was able to attend the interview, and I hope that her "luck" in being allowed to enter will continue with her other upcoming interviews in the US. If you are American and you think that baring Canadian astrophysicists from spending time and money in the US is not in the best strategic interests of your country, please pass this story on to your congressman.


  1. Considering the fact that she had visited the US (multiple entries) and having experienced being educated and funded by the US government within 8 graceful years but has never applied for the US citizenship or PR, and yet still shown interest by continuing her personal affairs in the States; clearly, she was seen as a threat by the Immigration and Borders Security officials. I believe she's an honest, innocent and yet naive of the security measures taken by the US government. I applaud her decision when she took the risk of re-entering and was calm during the litigation process, her civil right was untouchable and proven innocent, I’m glad she made it to the interview.. There were a few high profile cases where Scientists, Political Scientists and Foreign Specialists in numerous field were suspected of espionage activities. She was a suspect, nothing less. If the Department of Homeland Security was indeed involved directly with her during the interrogation at the airport, apart from the airport immigration officers, she was indeed being detained under 'suspicious activities'. Most operatives were part of the government-funded professional labor scheme including those listed as visa exempted countries.

    1. She was (incorrectly) seen as a "threat" of marrying an American, not a "threat" of espionage. That is why she was allowed back in once she had a job in Canada...